At the time of its release in April, Common Center promised there would be a second EP out before the end of the year. As promised, the ensemble’s five-track Invisible Ropes is scheduled to drop Dec. 8. The EP will be available on all major digital/streaming platforms, including the group’s Bandcamp page: commoncenter.bandcamp.com.
Invisible Ropes is another great representation of Common Center’s rich, distinct and hard-to-classify sound. Some of the group’s ear-grabbing sonic personality is the result of its instrumental arsenal, which has an acoustic-guitar/bass/keys/drums core but also features violin and saxophone in prominent roles.
The septet’s music has elements of Indie Folk and Progressive Rock, but it also has the mark of Classical music’s influence and there are often sounds, rhythms and feels that evoke traditional music from other parts of the world. On the Ropes track “Trace,” for example, the rhythm section of Adam Gockenbach (drums), Ian Smith (percussion) and Dennis DeZarn (bass), as well as Jessica Graff’s evocative violin work, help to give Common Center its shades of Eastern European Gypsy music.
Interesting instrumentation and varied influences, of course, can only take a band so far. Along with a clear chemistry between the talented players, Common Center’s magic comes from the often-transcendent nature of the songwriting. The group’s compositions seem thoughtfully considered, at times sounding as if they could have been written out and annotated as sheet music. But the songs manage to also come across as very fluid and impetuous, like they were crafted in a trance during extended jams at band practice.
It’s a dichotomy that makes perfect sense when you hear how the music also floats between an old-world vibe and a more contemporary, Pop-era sensibility. Ultimately, the musicians’ multifarious fusion achieves a sense of timelessness.
The mesmerizing, atmospheric Chamber Folk song “Frost At Midnight” opens the EP with slow-burning, slow-building drama. The track sprouts from Lewis Connell’s warm, chiming keys (akin to the warm pads of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”), which are gradually and creatively augmented by the other musicians and a few guests — Sandy Suskind shades the track with scurrying, echo-y flute trills and miscellaneous string sounds (with an assist from Michael G. Ronstadt's cello) sweep through elegantly. The vocals (including Graff’s crucial harmonies, which help make the choruses soar) are mood-setting and spellbinding, beginning with a trippy, low-key croon that steadily opens up to show the impressive range of singer/guitarist Liam Hall’s voice.
After the airy, spacious opener, the swooning “Charm” floats in on a Latin-like rhythmic sway, as the piano, violin and sax dance around each other and the memorable melodies. Elsewhere, “Shaker’s Waltz” is a gorgeous instrumental — despite its lack of vocals, the repeated melodic musical themes are as catchy as anything on Invisible Ropes. The EP closes on an endearingly offbeat note with “No Questions,” which shape-shifts rhythmically and tonally at a furious pace in just two minutes and 46 seconds, like some sort of lost Mr. Bungle track. Though Common Center is thrillingly atypical in everything it does musically, the blunt weirdness of “No Questions” shows that the band’s uniqueness can also manifest itself in more quirky and avant-garde ways.
Common Center celebrates the release of Invisible Ropes with a show Saturday, Dec. 8 at Madison Live (734 Madison Ave., Covington, madisontheateronline.com). Us, Today and Michael G. Ronstadt will also perform at the 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $10 in advance through cincyticket.com or $12 at the door.
For more on Common Center, visit commoncentersounds.com.